What is a Design System?
A design system is a collection of reusable components including code snippets, images, assets, guidelines, and standards that belong to a product design team within an organization. This collection is referred to while designing and developing a product in the organization.
An organization’s repute and success are directly linked to its design system since it enforces a shared language and consistent experience throughout the organization’s products and branding. It behaves like a single source of truth being used across the teams and helps to maintain the quality of the product design.
“Understanding not only the what, but the why, behind the design of a system is critical to creating an exceptional user experience.”- Better Design
Why Do You Need a Design System?
As an organization, having your own design system helps you in many ways:
Single Source of Truth
A design system is a single source of truth that can be referred to while designing and developing any kind of product by your organization. Since the design system is built by involving stakeholders from all relevant teams and getting an agreement from design, development, marketing, product management, sales, and top management teams, everyone can use it with confidence and make design decisions as per defined standards and guidelines.
A design system enforces consistent experience throughout your products since all designs are built on top of the same rules. The design system makes it easier to define the identity of the organization among its audience. Also, it enhances the user experience of products as consistency is the key principle of UX design.
If the user must find a new way each time to resolve a similar kind of problem while working in design, he will get confused and frustrated at the same time. A design system helps to overcome this problem efficiently.
Improved Communication Across Teams
Having a design system ensures a unified language across the organization. The communication among teams is improved since everyone is referring to the same source. There is no need to spend time debating the functionality of a component and reaching a solution. The design system is built by getting opinions from every team, everyone trusts the defined language and starts using it without any worries about technical limitations.
Familiarity With Logical Reasoning
A design system not only defines the reusable components and their usage but also highlights the reasoning that why and when designers should choose a component. This helps both designers and developers to improve their learning of design concepts and know the best practices of different components. This makes it quick and easier to decide on the best component based on the requirements.
In addition to specs of UI components, guidelines also describe best practices. It makes it easier for a reader to decide about the right choice.
A design system facilitates the training of junior members of the team. New members can easily learn about the defined standards and behaviors and get familiar with the organization’s design rules in a short time. It helps to attain focused learning and they can start providing productive help in designing the product at the very start of their career.
A design system plays a major role in saving a lot of time at different levels in an organization.
While designing products, the designers don’t create detailed specs of components each time they hand over the design to developers. The developers don’t wait for specs, and they can refer to the components defined in the design system and build interfaces. They don’t need to worry about technical limitations and use reusable components where applicable.
The training of new designers and developers becomes easier with a design system and saves a lot of time. Shortly, a design system helps at each level in saving time by avoiding the need to reinvent the wheel, and teams can reuse the content again and again
Reiteration is the key to improving your products. Having a design system in hand, it is convenient to update it based on new standards and trends. The teams can always discuss ways to add new components, define new rules, and make a design system more understandable and useful for the users within the organization.
Remember, the reusable components do not mean avoiding innovation, however, there is a need to review and revise them regularly.
Steps to Create a Design System
The following steps are used to create a design system.
- Evaluate Your Current Products
- Explore Existing Design Systems
- Identify a Team
- Define Visual Foundation
- Build Components
- Build Patterns
- Define Content
- Maintain and Evolve Design System
Step 1: Evaluate Your Current Products
Your organization must have a few products already in the market or in the development phase. The first step is to evaluate your existing products in terms of usability, user experience, innovation, and consistency. Review your products and identify inconsistencies. List the components that can be converted into reusable components. Specify the areas where standards and rules are lacking.
Step 2: Explore Existing Design Systems
The next step is to look at a few popular design systems created by other organizations. Large organizations prefer to define their own design systems as it helps them to develop their enterprise-level products while maintaining consistency and saving a lot of time and effort by avoiding reinventing the wheel.
A few popular design systems are:
Material is a design system created by Google, backed by open-source code that helps teams build high-quality digital experiences for Android, iOS, Flutter, and the web.
Atlassian’s design system provides an end-to-end design language to create simple, intuitive, and beautiful experiences. Moreover, Atlassian provides you with a design system template that gives you the tools you need to define your design principles, and document components, and clarify rules and best practices for design, writing, and more. You can take it as a starting point for your design system.
Fluent is an open-source, cross-platform design system that gives designers and developers the frameworks they need to create engaging product experiences.
Apple provides in-depth information and UI resources for designing great apps that integrate seamlessly with Apple platforms.
Salesforce provides a well-documented design system including reusable components, tokens, guidelines, and tools to build business apps. Using SLDS you can start building immediately, without worrying about detailed specs.
IBM’s Carbon design system provides working code, design tools and resources, human interface guidelines, and a vibrant community of contributors that help designers and developers to design amazing experiences for digital products.
Polaris allows you to build a great consistent experience for all of Shopify’s merchants. It consists of practical guides, resources, links, and third-party tools to help you and your teams learn, draft, design, and build products for Shopify.
Step 3: Identify a Team
Since building a design system is a continuous activity that requires frequent reviews and updates, it is better to keep a dedicated team to maintain this asset of the organization. The number of team members can vary depending on the required work.
A good combination of UX roles that are needed to build a design system includes UX designer, visual designer, developer, UX researcher, and UX writer. All these roles can work together to analyze the needs, create UX guidelines, design visuals, write code snippets, and document the guidelines. However, these roles can work full-time or part-time as required in building the design system.
The remaining 5 steps will be described in Part II of the article.
To learn more on how to design better experiences, consider the Interaction Design Foundation’s online courses on UI Design Patterns for Successful Software.
Apart from courses, webinars, and bootcamps, the Interaction Design Foundation is also home to the biggest and most authoritative library of open-source UX Design Resources. Check out the free UX Literature here.
Thanks for reading.